Having a dog often entails bundling up, venturing out late into the night, and blasting away any warmth and sleepiness you’ve been building up all evening, to give her some needed relief and exercise.

As yet another snowfall blankets the Midwest, even a winter lover like myself sighs a big sigh. It will be March in a few days. The birds know it; I heard the first of their springtime tweeting just yesterday morning.

But on go the boots and on goes the leash to a jubilant, bright-eyed, hip-swaying dog who’s ready for some excitement.

Once we’re outside and I close the door to the warmth and light and noise of the kids’ electronics, I feel like Sugar and I have just stepped onto the Moon. No one is out, no moving cars in sight. While Sugar sniffs wildly under bushes and pokes her nose into rabbit tracks, looking up comically with a snow cone nose, my steps make that crisp, chunky sound that only happens in extreme cold and feels like walking on Styrofoam.

After walking several blocks we come across three little pines still bleakly blinking their colored holiday lights (still?). It’s at this point that I realize I can’t feel my fingers or toes… time to head back. We turn, and I see not lights now but glitter, silver glitter sprinkled liberally and twinkling brightly across every snow bank. Perhaps a combination of the temperature and fresh moisture, but never before have I seen such an animated brilliance to the newly fallen snow.

Now I’m scary cold (Sugar seems oblivious) so we high-step run as best we can through the fresh soft inches covering the old rock hard inches of this winter’s accumulation.

Before heading in, we stop for a few more moments to bask in the darkness, the brightness, the peaceful silence, of a late winter’s snow.

I stood in the pet store aisle considering the object in my hand. It was a brightly colored plastic stick-shaped dog toy. “Scented!” read the copy. “It floats!” said the packaging. I was thinking that this might be great to buy for my upcoming trip with our Shepherd/lab mix Sugar. We would be lakeside for two weeks, and I envisioned myself hurling the toy over and over into Lake Superior as she joyously splashed into the water to swim and retrieve.

But then I stopped and remembered: we will be right on this Great Lake. We have a sandy beach and we are in the forest. What exists there naturally, and in huge abundance?

Driftwood. Sticks. Of all shapes and sizes. Fun to throw, easy to float. And they must smell of fish and animals and insects and earth and rain and sunshine and all the things dogs intensely love to sniff.

I glanced around the store and thought about what else Sugar might need. But other than food and a few necessities, what Sugar needs is not on these shelves or hanging from these displays.

What she needs is eye contact, a friendly voice, a comforting stroke of the hand. She needs a loving home, long walks, and crazy playtime. She needs quiet, regular reassurance that she is a Good Dog and that she is doing the Right Thing.

I put back the chemical laden manufactured product and thought about walking the beach and the woods with Sugar, looking for the perfect piece of natural wood for that day’s play.


I’ve been cooking up a storm lately, taking advantage of the last round of cool days before the heat of summer really sets in.

When roasting vegetables, I almost always go with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), but roasting cauliflower with coconut oil somehow elevates it to a whole new level. Coconut oil is not as heart healthy as EVOO, but it’s nice to use once in a while. And with this simple side dish you are getting in your cruciferous vegetable, so it all balances out.

1 large head cauliflower, cut into small (1-1/2 to 2″) florets

2 tablespoons coconut oil

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 450F.

Spread cauliflower florets on a large cookie sheet in a single layer. Melt coconut oil in small pan then drizzle onto florets. Stir and turn florets gently with a spoon to coat evenly. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pop into oven and roast for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it; you might want to remove from oven and stir halfway through cooking. You want the cauliflower to be golden brown, with the tips just beginning to char.

Remove from oven when done, let rest for a minute, and enjoy!

Serves 4.

If I have developed one skill lately, it’s to embrace change.

I’m at a crossroads in almost every area I can think of: my personal life, my career… yet many things chug along as they always have. I still have the same responsibilities and new ones to come. Each day brings sublime little moments and take-a-deep-breath challenges.

This crossroads stuff is scary, but it’s also refreshing. It’s a reboot, akin to those uncertain years of high school and college. It’s back to figuring out who you are, what is important to you, where to go next.

And it’s a reminder to me that we are all in a state of continuous change, just like the greater world around us.

Whether your next move is groundbreaking, or just a subtle shift (either can be huge)… you are utilizing your life energy and you are moving forward. It’s when you keep things static that you run into trouble.

So enjoy the moment and keep it flowing.. your mind, your body, your outlook. Shed old ideas. Remain true to who you are. Hit reset. Hit go.

I’m not as minimalist as I’d like to be with my wardrobe. It’s not extensive, but it’s definitely not pared down to bare necessities.

Part of the reason is that I love fashion. I’m pretty practical… so I am more spectator than participant, but I love clothing as art object and fashion as art form.

Enter my vanity boots.

I can’t wear them, but I didn’t want to give them up either. I admire them for what they are: an Italian-made pair of crazily gorgeous supple leather sable brown boots. And (here’s the vanity part) I think I look really good in them. When I’m sitting down. Or standing still.

Walking in these boots is a skill I have not mastered. I almost killed myself trying to cross a cobblestone street in them. I think the problem is the sculptured three-inch heel. I can run around all day in a 2 1/2″ heel, but when it hits 3 inches, the engineering of the shoe just doesn’t synchronize with the makeup of my body.

I tried them on today, venturing staccato-like across the room, suddenly, easily accepting that in the interest of minimalism and the dissolution of vanity, the boots are headed to the consignment shop to look great on someone else.

The morning birds are chirping and the days are getting longer, but it’s a stretch to say that spring is in the air. Not in Chicago. Usually not ’til May, because we are known to skip straight to summer, seemingly bypassing the season of rebirth altogether.

Personally, this winter has tested my resolve in many ways, least of all the globally-reported weather. Yet out of winter’s dormancy comes growth.

Somehow this season has always been a comfort, despite the howling winds. An Ayurvedic doctor suggested it was in my Northern European blood. I’m more content on gloomy days than on sunny days; a mild storm does me better than a picture perfect day. I veer straight away from drama and chaos, but if a gray cloud wants to settle above me for awhile, I’m okay with that.

So I don’t mind still facing down the snowbanks, teetering cautiously on ice, and moon walking on two feet of packed snow to get to the compost bin. It’s only February; the winter wolf is still roaming these parts.

Time will move forward and as we approach the vernal equinox, I’ll be ready. A spring morning with the scent of new earth, a balmy and still summer afternoon, a succulent summer night. I look forward to all of these.

But I will still bid a longing goodbye to winter.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to go whale watching. I think that if I was lucky enough to encounter a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean just a few feet away, those fleeting, thrilling moments would last a lifetime.

We often go through a lot of effort and expense to have a great experience that lasts a short time but remains forever in our mind’s eye. We wait in line for 45 minutes for a 2 minute ride at the amusement park. We travel halfway around the world to see with our own eyes a historical landmark or a natural wonder.

And sometimes, very rarely, these moments come to you. I had a landlocked version of the whale experience many years ago, and I still think of it surprisingly often.

When I went to college in a small Southern town, I rode a motorcycle (a beloved vintage ’73 Honda CB350) everywhere I went and for a short time lived on a farm 25 miles out of town. It was literally an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods commute.

Riding home late one perfect Autumn evening, I was heading out of a wooded area into open land. Even with the din of the motor and with my helmet on, I heard a loud, crazy screeching sound. For some reason I glanced up and what I saw was the white underbelly of a massive Barn Owl just a foot or two above my head. Its impressive wingspan fanned over me, at the same speed I was traveling, and I swear I also heard the whoosh of its wings. I don’t know if it dove down to fly above me or if it noticed me at all, but I felt like a mere mortal in the presence of a higher being. It was an absolutely magical moment, and it lasted probably four seconds. Then, as quickly as it made itself known, the owl disappeared into the night.

This experience was perhaps more modest in scale to a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean, but it was equally transforming. And I remember it as one of the best moments of my life.

I love to get rid of things. If I were more patient about it, I would make a little money selling on eBay or Craigslist (which I do sometimes). I’ve given up holding yard sales as well. As I feel unnecessary objects piling up around me, I get very restless. I feel the weight of excess ownership upon me. So I clean the offending items up and donate them to my favorite resale shop whose proceeds benefit a local charity. (The financial balance is that the donations are tax deductible).

Lately I’ve been focusing on books. To my mind, books are highly worthy objects, so this has not been easy. But as I looked over my overstuffed bookcases, I knew it was time to make choices.

Several years ago, I started discovering book sale sections at local libraries. I would spend hours with these shelves and bring home armloads of books for which I only spent a few dollars. What I wound up with are books about Tolkien and his writings, books about gardening, health, nature, hiking, art, essays, poetry, all the things I love to read about. When faced with personal loss, I picked up book after book about grieving and loss, hoping they would help me process my emotions. But the reality is, I didn’t read most of these books cover to cover. They were simply objects that represented my interests.

And owning these books wasn’t really enhancing my life; it was overkill, clutter.

So this week, I pared them down dramatically. I still have one book, or several, on everything that interests me. I still have my old Tolkien trilogy and my newer Hunger Games trilogy. I just no longer have different versions of these books or companion books or anything else.

I also went through the books I bought through the years for my children. This was especially difficult, but I realized that I was the one tied up with these books, not my kids. I was emotionally invested because I had made the choices in bringing these books home to expand my kids’ horizons on one topic or another. Most books had simply been outgrown; a few never interested them much in the first place. But of course I kept some beautiful classics and old favorites.

When it was all done, I had three big heavy boxes to bring to the store. And looking back to my newly open shelves and more carefully curated book collection, I saw that the books I loved most were no longer hidden in the shadows of the others. They were right there for me, as they had been all along.

Last Thursday, a few days before the equinox, I stepped outside after an evening yoga class and looked eastward toward the late twilight sky. The amber moon was stunning, immense. It hung low and heavy, like ripe fruit.

So mesmerizing was this moon, I couldn’t turn away. I wanted to feel closer. And to me, closer to the moon means closer to the water. Lucky to live near the Lake Michigan shoreline, I headed toward the beach.

As I stood and watched, the waves roared and sparkled in silver and black then broke languidly into the sand. I just needed time to feel the night breeze, to gaze at the placid moon while it seemed to gaze back at me.

How many other beings, I wondered, are spending a few quiet moments with the moon, elsewhere in the world, as I am now?

It’s hard to resist the pull of the full Harvest Moon, bringing with it a procession of moonlit nights. On this night, I finally turned away and headed home, feeling oddly and greatly at peace.

At the farmer’s market in Michigan, I picked up four perfect candy onions. (I mean, who can resist that name?) This recipe produces insanely delicious sweet, slightly crispy onions that would complement a million things, but I end up just eating them as they are. And of course they are good for you…. onions have anti-inflammatory benefits and protect your body in all sorts of ways, we all know about olive oil, and even maple syrup provides the antioxidant benefits of manganese and zinc.  Note: there is a slight bit of technique involved here, but your patience and attentiveness will be highly rewarded!

4 medium candy, sweet, or Vidalia onions

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 good dashes salt

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Peel outermost layers of onions; trim off stem and root ends; cut in halves, then into thin slices. In large saute pan, warm olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion slices and stir with spatula to coat with oil. Spread the slices evenly in the pan and allow to cook for ten minutes or so. Sprinkle with salt, give it a stir. You may need to adjust the heat to prevent onions from burning or drying out. Feel free to add a bit more oil as well to avoid this. Stir frequently as all slices become softened.

Continue cooking the onions for up to an hour. Keep an eye on them, stirring only when the onions begin to brown but before they begin to burn; this is what helps caramelize them. After 25 minutes or so, you might want to lower the heat and stir and scrape the browned bits more often. Add the maple syrup for flavor and to encourage the caramelizing process. Watch, stir, and scrape until the onions are very soft and nicely browned. Splash with balsamic vinegar, stir well. Let rest for a few minutes and serve.

Serves 4-6 as a topping or side.